Public pessimism and misunderstanding could undermine fight against global poverty

IN the past 20 years, the number of people living in extreme poverty has more than halved, but the vast majority of Australians and people around the world think the opposite is true.

A new global survey published by Dutch research firm Motivaction reveals that 89 per cent of Australians, and 87 per cent of people globally, wrongly believe that the proportion of people living in poverty has either stayed the same or worsened over the past two decades.

Oxfam Chief Executive Dr Helen Szoke said the scale of pessimism and misunderstanding could threaten the tough job of pulling the remaining “second billion” out of extreme poverty.

“The halving of global poverty is the biggest unsung success story in recent human history,” Dr Szoke said. “The achievement shows what is possible – but also highlights what remains to be done. We still have a long way to go and need public energy now more than ever.

“The success could start to reverse if we don’t tackle with equal passion the rise of inequality, abuses driven by conflict, land grabs and climate change.

“Greater effort is needed by the Australian Government to harness this success and to build up, rather than continue to raid, the Australian Aid program,” Helen said.

Global extreme poverty has more than halved since 1990, according to the World Bank’s “$1.25 a day” measure, now affecting 840 million people, down from 1.9 billion. Economic growth, particularly in Africa and Asia, coupled with more open societies, stronger trade between developing countries, and greater wealth distribution between countries, has made this a staggeringly successful human achievement. Technological advances have also been very important.

It will be slower and more difficult to support those who remain living in extreme poverty– but not impossible. Economic growth needs to be more sustainable and inclusive, and more concentrated efforts need to be to made to tackle rising inequality in all countries, as well as poor governance and conflict.

Motivaction research director Martijn Lampert said that as the world was half-way to eradicating extreme poverty, it was time for more enhanced public engagement strategies to help finish the job. “However, the fact that public belief is largely missing is a big barrier to future success,” he said.

Only one person in every 100 can correctly state that global poverty has halved, and five out of 10 believe their personal actions can make little or no difference to help end global poverty.

People’s opinions and understanding vary hugely both between countries. In China, for instance, 50 per cent of those surveyed think correctly that poverty has decreased, compared to only 11 per cent in Australia and 8 per cent in the United States.

“Chinese people can actually witness the success in tackling extreme poverty in their own country. It is instructive that people in richer nations cannot,” Lampert said.

Global Citizen spokesperson Michael Sheldrick said: “These findings bear out the fact that more of our supporters are coming from countries where great transformation or high economic growth are taking place. The key is now providing those who believe their actions can make a difference with a way to get involved and to help, including by raising awareness amongst other parts of the public.”

Ryan Fritz

Ryan Fritz started The Advocate in 2014 to provide not-for-profits and charities another media platform to tell their worthwhile hard news stories and opinion pieces effortlessly. In 2020, Ryan formed a team of volunteer journalists to help spread even more high-quality stories from the third sector. He also has over 10 years experience as a media and communications professional for not-for-profits and charities and currently works at Redkite, a childhood cancer charity.

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Ryan Fritz

Ryan Fritz started The Advocate in 2014 to provide not-for-profits and charities with another media platform to tell their worthwhile hard news stories and opinion pieces effortlessly. In 2020, Ryan formed a team of volunteer journalists to help spread even more high-quality stories from the third sector. He also has over 10 years of experience as a media and communications professional for not-for-profits and charities.

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